As I have discussed here many times before, The Southside Messenger is not afraid to point out the failings of local government, even if other news outlets are. This time is about a familiar subject: Bucky Fore, the Chair of the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors. The article in the November 27 – December 3, 2008 newspaper recounts that this is the third time in recent months that questions from both citizens and the Messenger have been left unanswered either in session or in other communications.
I will let reporter extraordinaire Wilkie Chaffin fill you in:
For the third time in recent months, Prince Edward County supervisors have been questioned about an apparently illegal action taken by the Board of Supervisors in November of 2007. The charge was first made publicly in a Southside Messenger article in June of this year, after a citizen, Jack Houghton, accidently learned of a letter that described a commitment that the county had made. The Messenger article described how Prince Edward County supervisors made the decision to provide water to The Manor golf complex based on a secret phone call survey to certain supervisors instead of taking a vote in a public meeting as is required by law. In October of 2008, Supervisor Lacy Ward asked that a Board committee be set up to examine the relevant circumstances of this action and issue a written report of its findings. The other seven supervisors voted against setting up this committee. At the regular November 12, 2008 Board of Supervisors meeting, Jack Houghton raised the matter of this action and asked “if members of the Board would like to comment, to explain your actions, to justify why you forgot in this case the vital importance of transparency, and went ahead to apparently violate Virginia’s open meeting law.” Supervisors Fore, Simpson, Jones, Gilfillan, Moore, and McKay, along with County Administrator Bartlett and County Attorney Ennis, were all involved in this action that has been questioned. Yet, apparently, only Supervisor Bobby Jones has denied the charge that the action was illegal, or tried to explain or justify the action. Supervisor Jones said in October that he had a document that would explain this action. However, no document has been produced.
Previous articles have focused on VFOIA violations, and selective use of public hearings when it seems certain that one would be required, and many more. The latest giveaway to the Manor Resort, which I have been told is on shaky financial ground, is the water infrastructure spoken of in Mr. Chaffin’s article. Part of a recent agreement paid off or forgave amounts owed to the county by the CDA formed to initially start the ‘Manor’, formerly known as Poplar Hill.
At a November 18, 2008 special meeting called by Chairman William Fore, the Board discussed priorities for Prince Edward capital projects. Supervisors were asked to rank six possible projects. Supervisors gave the highest ranking to a $2.5 million utilities agreement with the Town of Farmville, and the lowest ranking to the proposed water plant and distribution system, which at this meeting was estimated to cost between $15 million and $25 million. The construction of a new library was given the second highest ranking ($2.8 – $3.1 million in cost), with the Sandy River Reservoir intake ($4.0 million), an industrial park site development ($1.3 million), and school construction/renovation projects ($1.1 million) receiving ranking of three, four, and five in that order. Supervisor Sally Gilfillan asked the Board to agree to fund the county’s portion of the library costs before the financially attractive construction bid expires. Supervisors have agreed previously to pay a financial consultant, Davenport and Co., $10,000 to prepare a financial report concerning the general financial condition of the county and the ability of the county to afford projects such as those ranked at this meeting. Board Chairman Fore said he believed that supervisor rankings would change after the Davenport report was received. The Board then spent considerable time discussing the proposed water and sewer utilities agreement with the town. In return for $2.5 million from the county, the Town of Farmville would agree to turn over a portion of its water supply and wastewater system outside of the town to Prince Edward County. The town would also agree to provide a potable water supply and to provide treatment and disposal of wastewater for certain county areas outside of the town’s service area. Supervisor Lacy Ward asked why third parties were a part of this agreement and suggested that the agreement would mean that the Poplar Hill Community Development Authority (CDA) will not have to pay the money that it owes to the Town of Farmville. County Attorney James Ennis said that these provisions would eliminate future litigation on matters related to a 2000 agreement and were in this agreement at the request of Farmville. The Board of Supervisors approved the agreement with the town, with Supervisor Ward voting no. Mr. Ward said he did not want taxpayer money to pay off debts made by the CDA. The signing of the agreement by the county and town was scheduled to be held the next day.
Constant pressure is being applied by Mr. Houghton, Mr. Chaffin, and Mr. Ward, a Prince Edward County Supervisor, to get at the truth. What will it take? Will there need to be another Grand Jury? Oops, did that already. You see, the Commonwealth’s Attorney is also the County Attorney. That should be illegal, and there should be a corrupt institutions investigation of Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors.